Monday, November 27, 2006

Olmert offers mass prisoner release

Telegraph - The Israeli prime minister today said he was prepared to free "many" Palestinian prisoners in return for the release of Cpl Gilad Shalit, the soldier captured by Palestinian militants in June.

Speaking on the second day of a fragile ceasefire, Ehud Olmert said that he was willing to dismantle Israeli settlements in the West Bank in exchange for "real peace".

"I hold out my hand in peace to our Palestinian neighbours in the hope that it won't be returned empty," he said.

"We cannot change the past and we will not be able to bring back the victims on both sides of the borders. All that we can do today is stop additional tragedies."

He also offered to ease travel restrictions on Palestinians and free up frozen funds if violence against Israel ended.

It was the first time that Mr Olmert has offered to exchange prisoners for Cpl Shalit, but the governing Hamas movement immediately dismissed the offer as " not enough".

Hamas has demanded the release of more than 1,000 prisoners in return for the 20-year-old soldier's freedom.

Both sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict are coming under increasing American pressure to make visible progress towards a permanent peaceful solution.